The NFL has just about reached the halfway point of its regular season, and as we hand out midseason awards, the league and the NFL Players Association deserve some recognition for navigating eight weeks without losing a game. Their goal is to get in 256 games over 17 weeks, and while there is still a long way to go, it has been impressive that the NFL has made it this far with only minor schedule changes.
That has allowed fans to witness the best offensive production in NFL history, with scoring and passing numbers at all-time levels. That offensive outburst is clearly reflected in our midseason awards.
MVP: QB Russell Wilson, Seahawks. People in Seattle have been complaining for the past couple of years that Wilson hasn’t received a vote for the MVP award. That should end this year. Wilson is having one of the greatest seasons for a quarterback in NFL history. His 26 touchdown passes are the second most through eight weeks of a season.
For years, the Seahawks have played more conservatively on offense, relying on Wilson to lead fourth-quarter comebacks. The theme this year, in a response to the cries of many fans, has been to “Let Russ Cook.” Coach Pete Carroll is letting him throw more on first and second down. The team is letting him go more up-tempo. The result is that Wilson is completing 71.5% of his passes for 2,151 yards and 8.4 yards per attempt.
Wilson is carrying his team more than any quarterback we’ve seen in a long time. The Seattle defense is giving up 28.4 points and a league-worst 460.9 yards per game. To win, Wilson has to outscore opponents. In leading the Seahawks to an NFC-best record of 6-1, he has done exactly that. Seattle’s 34.3 points per game lead the NFL.
Super Bowl front-runners: Chiefs and Seahawks. I know the Pittsburgh Steelers are undefeated and have a slightly easier schedule down the stretch, but I give the nod to Kansas City in the AFC because of Patrick Mahomes, who stands alongside Wilson as the best quarterbacks in the league.
It has been incredible watching Mahomes grow as a quarterback. This year, he’s completing 66.9% of his passes for 2,315 yards – second most in the league – and 21 touchdowns. He’s on pace to throw for more than 40 touchdowns. The Chiefs have great speed at the skill positions, and Mahomes is so calm in the pocket and on the run, getting the ball to his receivers and watching them rack up yards after the catch.
The Chiefs’ other advantage is how easy it will be to win the AFC West. While the Steelers still have to contend with Baltimore in the AFC North, the Chiefs have a 2½-game lead in the West and should be able to wrap up the division title in early December.
Seattle’s 37-27 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday puts them in the best spot to get the NFC’s No. 1 seed. The Seahawks still have a tough month ahead, with games against the Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals, but as long as they don’t lose two of those, they are on pace for a 12- or 13-win season. After the Cardinals game Nov. 19, the Seahawks enter a stretch in which they play the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, New York Jets and Washington Football Team.
Super Bowl challengers: Steelers, Ravens, Buccaneers and Packers. The Steelers’ win over the Ravens on Sunday in Baltimore was huge. Going into the season, the schedule was set up for them to easily win 12 games. They might do a little better. Their only tough games down the stretch are against Baltimore, Buffalo, Indianapolis and Cleveland. At the halfway mark, their schedule is set to be the fifth easiest in the league.
The Steelers have achieved their goal of averaging 30 points per game, and Ben Roethlisberger has made a great recovery from last year’s elbow injury. Even though they lost star linebacker Devin Bush to an ACL tear, their blitz-happy defense remains one of the best in the league, and they got help ahead of the trade deadline by adding inside linebacker Avery Williamson from the New York Jets.
Still, don’t sleep on the Ravens. Even though Lamar Jackson isn’t putting up his MVP numbers of last year, Baltimore’s running attack is still potent and its defense is in the top seven in the league. It also helps that they finish the season with only four games against teams with winning records. If Baltimore can’t catch Pittsburgh in the AFC North, it can still be a force as a wild-card team.
Tampa Bay can still beat out the Seahawks for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. It will be interesting to see what changes are made after WR Antonio Brown joins the offense, given how his two most recent stints with other teams ended. The Bucs just keep adding talent around Tom Brady, and Tampa Bay entered Monday’s game second only to Seattle at 31.7 points per game.
Green Bay loses a tiebreaker to the Bucs because of its 28-point loss to them last month. Aaron Rodgers is having an MVP-type season and can carry the Packers to the top of the standings, but the run defense is a concern.
Coach of the Year: Mike Tomlin, Steelers. Coaches who win every year are typically passed over in the voting. Carroll, Andy Reid, John Harbaugh and others have set such a high standard that the award usually goes to a new coach whose team surprises with a winning record or a trip to the Super Bowl. But Tomlin deserves it. The Steelers didn’t make the playoffs last year. Now they are 7-0.
Since the Steelers acquired safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from Miami last season, they have had a top-five defense. On top of that, they have blitzed more often and are getting more turnovers and sacks.
Rookie of the Year: QB Joe Burrow, Bengals. The Bengals’ defense is the sixth-worst in the NFL, giving up 400.9 yards and 26.8 points per game. The offensive line has been horrible. But despite those problems, Burrow is having one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history. His 221 completions in the first eight games are the most by a quarterback – not just rookies – in NFL history.
He’s completing 67% of his passes and has thrown only five interceptions. What’s even more impressive is how he has been able to handle his bad pass blocking, shaking off 28 sacks to keep his team competitive. In Sunday’s win over the Tennessee Titans, he was great. The Bengals were down all five offensive line starters because of injuries, and he still completed 26 of 37 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. The Bengals are 2-5-1, but Burrow has made them competitive.
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